A new sheriff in school

Marco Sanchez implemented new policies and procedures when he

Expulsions at Gilroy High School have increased 150 percent
compared to all of last year
– and it’s only five days into March. But it’s not the students
who have changed – it’s the principal.
Expulsions at Gilroy High School have increased 150 percent compared to all of last year – and it’s only five days into March. But it’s not the students who have changed – it’s the principal.

When Marco Sanchez stepped onto his new campus last fall, one of the first things he did was sit down with his staff and bring them up to speed.

“We’re not playing around,” he said. “Kids need to come here to learn and focus on success. I have no tolerance for kids that come in through this door to destroy the academic environment we work hard to create.”

In every classroom and common area, a list of the school’s policies and procedures is posted. There’s no excuse not to know what’s against the rules, Sanchez said.

“Policies shouldn’t be developed in the closet,” he said. “If they are, everybody’s left guessing. And don’t ever build a discipline policy you can’t enforce.”

Although it’s difficult to compare Gilroy High’s discipline numbers this year because of a number of factors – a new administration, 700 fewer students on campus thanks to the opening of Christopher High School – staff said they’re cracking down.

“I think the reason (discipline issues) seem more prevalent this year is because it hasn’t really been something that was handled in the past two years like it is this year,” said Wendy Harrington, the discipline secretary Sanchez jokingly refers to as “The Warden.” “I think it’s getting better because more people are taking notice and more people are taking action. We’re just trying to clean the campus up.”

So far this year, 25 students have been expelled from GHS – compared to 10 all of last year. Fighting on campus caused the most expulsions, but gang activity and drugs were issues as well. The number of students expelled is split pretty evenly between girls and boys, Sanchez said, adding that he had to break up two fights recently between female students.

“It’s totally unbecoming of a lady,” he said.

Instead of overhauling GHS’s discipline policies, Sanchez and his staff merely tweaked a few rules and made a commitment to be consistent when enforcing them. For example, the school’s on-campus suspension program “was run like a country club” in the past, Sanchez said.

Students on on-campus suspension often socialized with their friends during lunch, showed up late to school and were allowed to leave at dismissal with the rest of the students, he said. That’s no longer the case. Under Sanchez’s leadership, suspended students don bright orange vests and collect garbage left behind after brunch and lunch. They arrive at school promptly at 8 a.m., start the day off with a review of the school rules, spend the majority of the day working on assignments and eat lunch in their classroom. If they pick up trash, they can leave at 3 p.m. If they don’t, they have to stay an extra 20 minutes.

“The whole intent is to make it uncomfortable so they change their behavior,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez’s commanding yet jovial presence on campus has also helped change the campus climate, his employees said. If he’s not in his office, which almost always has it’s door wide open, he can often be found zipping around campus on a golf cart, offering a teacher a ride to class, saying hello to students or, if the situation warrants, doling out a discreet word of discipline.

“Dr. Sanchez is amazing,” said Bria DeLorenzo, the on-campus suspension teacher and a graduate of Gilroy High. “He’s definitely holding our students to a higher standard, which I think is fantastic. He’s a great leader and a role model for these kids. He relates very well with the students.”

The culture of accountability that’s coalescing on campus won’t just benefit students as they progress through life after high school, it also makes employees’ jobs more manageable.

“It’s all laid out in black and white,” said Calvin Kitchen, a campus supervisor who’s been at GHS for nine years. “We’re really enforcing the policies – more so than in the past – and that’s the key. The kids realize it too and it makes our job a little easier. We don’t have as much battling with kids sometimes as we did in the past.”

There may be less battling but there’s at least as much discipline going on, numbers in some areas indicate.

Junior Alex Rodriguez’s tardies are some of the 1,845 documented this year. Last year, GHS recorded only 1,226 tardies, but staff didn’t think it was because students were better about getting to class on time. Rodriguez had tardies in the past, but had never been sent to Saturday school or had to serve an on-campus suspension for them, he said. As his fellow students on suspension grabbed a bite to eat on their way back to their classroom, Rodriguez lamented the stricter rules, but said they would probably deter students from violating the rules in the future.

“I think you know what’s going to happen now more than last year,” he said. “If you do this, you’re gonna get this.”

Consistency and professionalism are key components to Sanchez’s discipline philosophy. He also tries to inject a little humor, and keeps his students up to date on the whereabouts of Cell Phone Sally, iPod Todd and Eight-Track Eddy – a few fictional students who just can’t get their act together.

“He’s got a good sense of humor,” Kitchen said. “It all starts with the leadership and we take our cue from him. There’s a different climate on campus this year.”

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